The Inauguration Ceremony and The First Day of VSS 2024

The Inauguration Ceremony of VSS and the V4 Diplomats' Debate

The morning of the 22nd Visegrad Summer School began with inspired opening remarks from Director of the Villa Decius, Dominika Kasprowicz who welcomed all the guests and participants to the official opening of the Summer School.

All the guests were thanked, those present and those in absentia, beginning with the Donors: the Visegrad Fund and its Executive Director Petr Mareš, and Grupa Zue. Gratitude was also shown to the partners: the city of Krakow, and the Municipality of Małopolska, the Václav Havel Library, People In Focus, the Bratislava Policy Institute and the Magyar Centrum. The teams responsible for all the media taken at the summer school were also thanked: Respublica, TVP 3 Krakow, Polskie Radio: DLA Zagranicy, and Visegrad Insight. Finally, recognition was given to the host and organiser of the event, the Villa Decius Association and itsteam, ensuring its smooth-running.

After the short welcome was, the first formal activity on the agenda was the V4 Diplomats’ Debate which focused on the role of the Visegrad Group, its capacities and efficiencies during turbulent times. There were four participants making up the V4 Consular Corps:

H.E Břetislav Dančak, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Poland; Madam Consul Lenka Pifkova Consul of Slovakia (in the stead of Madam Consul Zlata Šipošová); Márta Ritecz-Sekulic, Consul of Hungary in Krakow, and Rafał Dominiewicz, Deputy Director of the European Policy Department in Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Adam Balcer, Program Director at the Jan Nowak-Jezioriański College of Eastern Europe, moderated the discussion.

The debate was lively and proved relevant to contemporary Europe, exploring the topic Visegrad Group on the Crossroad. One of the key points emphasised was the role of the Visegrad in the face of the assaulting war on Ukraine, the positioning of Hungary and Slovakia, and that of Poland and the Czech Republic vis-a-vis Russia’s aggression. H.E. Dančak stated that reconciling the vital needs of each of the V4 while also showing solidarity against forces threatening to destabilise the V4 cooperation and the EU proved to be the common theme in political forums.

The debaters also considered the necessary steps to achieve stern unity. Madam Consul Pifkova emphasised communication as a key matter in all socio-political discourse. Ritecz-Sekulic considered joint operations and information sharing on education, healthcare and other prominent industries that could solidify the V4 even further.

Attendants of the summer school were also encouraged to ask questions and many seized the opportunity to challenge the debaters with tough questions on the relationships navigating the V4 conglomerate, the future of the Green Deal, and ultimately, the future of young people and their role in their political communities.

Overall, the debate concluded on a note of positive engagement from students and experts alike, and it marked a successful start to the summer school.


Professor Vašečk: The Future Trajectories of Central European Cooperation and the Myth of Central Europe

The second session of the day was conducted by esteemed Slovakian sociologist Professor Michal Vašečk whose lecture is encapsulated by the title: The Future Trajectories of Central European Cooperation and the Myth of Central Europe.

Professor Vašečk is no stranger to the grounds of Villa Decius halls that host the Visegrad summer School students, and his lecture embodied so much of the character that the VSS fondly aims to kindle in its young attendants.

His enigmatic lecture touched on various topics, squeezing the discussion into a mere two and a half hours, but students were engaged throughout and their enthusiasm was apparent through their curious questions.

Firstly, the session tackled the ever-relevant question of ‘What is Central Europe?’. How is the region defined, by whom and by what, considering how the construction of Central Europe is fluid and ever-changing with time and context as evidenced by how the older generations view Central Europe and how the younger people see it. This tied into a short history of the Visegrad 4 in regional integration, asking the young participants to consider whether Visegrad is an embodiment of Central Europe. How, Professor Vašečk asks, does cultural trauma caused by the Second World War change a region and how it is perceived by external parties and by its inhabitants? How do borders shape regional or state identity?

Additionally, the expertise of thinkers such as Kundera, Bibo, and Naumann who have written extensively on the character of Central Europe was evoked, further elaborating on the social construction of the region, and the recovery of identity after the World War II.

The lecture continued on to explore not just the ancient and contemporary history and their respective societies as emblems of Central Europe, but also the role of food, of neighbouring states, and of notable contemporary and historical figures like Marie Curie (the only recipient of the Nobel Prize in both chemistry and physics). It considered the important role of cinema and films such as The Shop on Main Street by Jan Kadar and Elmar Klos and visual representations of repression in a fascist era.

Lastly, the class also considered the anxieties that have come with modernity and globalization: Artificial Intelligence, the war on Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the global rise of populism to name a few, which are also ushering in a new identity for Central Europe.

In a poignant elaboration of the path forward, Professor Vašečk said:

The combination of frustration, hopelessness, and fear of globalization with the rapidly growing influence of social networks and conspiracy theories creates a truly toxic cocktail that is only waiting to be seized by a skilful ideologue.’

Thus, in summation, dialogue is a starting point in navigating the uncertain terrain ahead and there were varying opinions informed by the diverse national and academic backgrounds of the attendees. The first lecture of the summer school was a great success, not only thanks to the robustness of Professor Vašečk, but also because of the students who were engaged in their learning and enjoyed the difficult discussions that had no clear-cut answers to define and solve contemporary problems.

Integration Activities with Participants and VSS Team

To end the long day, the participants were invited to take part in fun integration activities to revive their spirits and energy before the last meal of the day. This segment of the day was carried out under the coordination of Coordinator of VSS Aleksandra Szymańska-Niekłań to set the foundations for good peer-to-peer interaction.

The first exercise was a name-recall game which proved to be simultaneously challenging and entertaining, and it certainly allowed attendants to get to know each other better. Next, was a short bingo exercise in which hobbies and fun activities were used to bring similar people together and spark conversation on their interests. Through this activity, many of the students realised just how much they had in common with each other, inspiring more friendly exchanges and bolstering the cultural components of the summer school. The last activity was a reverse Pictionary of sorts; a game of trust and cooperation where the participants were split into teams. One member of each team, with their eyes closed, was guided to write out a famous person’s name on a sheet of paper.

It was indeed a time of laughter and bonding that helped evaporate the last shreds of shyness among even the quiet members of the VSS!